JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff
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ROY — Utah’s governor visited Roy High School to praise the success of a program that boosted the school’s graduation rate and inspired a statewide program that aims to do the same.
Gov. Gary Herbert congratulated Roy educators Tuesday, June 7, for creating an initiative that caused the school’s graduation rate to skyrocket. Between 2009 and 2014, the average graduation rate was 71 percent; this year, officials estimate it was about 90 percent.
The program — referred to as the Roy Cone project — started in 2014 and tackled low graduation rates with several approaches.
One approach assigned older, struggling students to tutor younger kids having trouble with math and reading. Another tasked paid advocates with finding and helping students who weren’t attending school. A third carved out time within school hours for high school students to earn back credits for classes they failed.
During his visit to the school, Herbert said the success of the project — which includes students from Roy High and its feeder schools — will lead to success for other schools as well. Through the $2 million statewide initiative the project inspired, Utah schools will be able to apply for funding and implement similar programs of their own.
Herbert said he hopes the statewide initiative, Partnerships for Student Success Grant Program, will help Utah’s education system become the best in the country.
“They have put together an analysis and said the No. 1 economy today is Utah,” Herbert said, referring to a WalletHub study calling the state’s economy the best in the nation. “We have to have a new goal. We need to be the No. 1 best performing education system in America.”
MORE:Roy High graduation improvement spurs $2 million state education initiative
At the event, Herbert presented a letter of congratulations to Roy High Principal Gina Butters.
“You’ve proven we can do it,” he said. “We need to get it done.”
Ogden philanthropist Alan Hall, who gave $250,000 to the original program, spoke at the event and emphasized that improving graduation rates can change lives.
“Instead of 150 students leaving high school without a diploma in hand and a questionable future, the tide has changed to only a small number,” he said. “We now know what and where improvements can be made.”
Utah Sen. Ann Millner, who worked to secure funding for the statewide program, attributed the Roy initiative’s success to people believing in the schools’ students and educators taking action to address specific needs.
“I asked the Legislature, ‘What else have we invested in and in over a year could give us an over 10 percent increase in graduation rates?’” Millner said of her time advocating for the statewide program. “No one had an answer.”
At the event, Millner thanked the schools’ educators for giving students the opportunity to graduate and succeed.
Utah Rep. Brad Dee, who helped gather state funding for the Roy project, praised the educators’ accomplishments and emphasized the importance of empowering people like them.
“We will see graduation rates improve across the state of Utah because we listened to the people who had responsibility to make it happen,” Dee said. “That’s how government works.”
At the event, Weber County School District Superintendent Dr. Jeff Stephens said the program’s success went beyond graduation rates. “It has everything to do with young people and their lives and the opportunities they will have as a result,” he said.
He said part of the program’s success was faculty members’ efforts to help remove obstacles that kept students from coming to school.
He pointed out that some government programs, such as No Child Left Behind, punish schools that don’t see success by taking away funds. This program took the opposite approach.
“We gave them a little support, and look what happened,” he said.
Janene Salt, a reading coach at Roy Elementary, said the program’s success shows positive changes are possible when teachers put the needs of students first at a grassroots level.
“They knew if they put the kids first, it would make a difference,” she said.
And though teachers’ hard work accounted for a large part of the program’s success, Butters praised the community for coming together and helping local students.
“If a community rallies around schools, gets involved, helps buoy up schools, great things can happen,” she said.